Monday, August 23, 2010

"Outside the Belly"

I haven't had the time to sit down and blog. Since my last blog we have gone through two strong ceremonies, and in between time we've had friends and family come to stay awhile. Since my last blog, I retired from one more longtime commitment -- the Rites of Passage Summer Academy for Pan Asian American students at Lane Community College -- and since my last blog we've demolished the kitchen which I found spreads throughout the whole house. No area is left untouched. I am also doing the nitty gritty paperwork involving a severely damaged car door of the Prius. I backed out without closing it. I am dealing with all my teeth and vision work and filling out all the paper I need to in order to transition from insurance to medicare through my retirement system. So I have not had time to introspect, to write. For me, I need a settled place, and settled time to write, and that is not going to happen until October.

But to those who follow "from Outside the Belly" I need to say that outside the belly has been a good place to be these two months! Out of the belly with the Winnemem people in ceremony! A short summary follows.

*Balas Chonas, or Coming of Age Ceremony, despite all the potential and risky problems, carried on smoothly. Someone in the National Forest System was doing their job and sent staff to monitor the river for safety. While Forest Supervisor Sharon Heywood turned her back and did nothing and while the NRA Ranger of the Shasta Forest Kristi Cottini continued to break ties made over decades with the Winnemem Tribe insisting that all past agreements regarding their freedom of religion disappeared with the death of the past chief, Florence Jones, and that there no longer was any ties between the Winnemem Tribe and the Forest Service, some other entity of the National Forests decided it would be foolhardy to sit by and allow racist recreational boaters and drunks run over the Winnemem youth as they swam over to join their friends and families on the fourth day of the ceremony. And they watched the river, talked with the leaders and in the end shut down the river for safe crossing.

Further, the young women and young men of the tribe really stepped up and took leadership roles. Babers who had the first Balas Chonas in 2006 with confidence and heart taught all she had learned of the traditional knowledge to the young initiates taking an important place alongside the elders. In fact, because she was the first to go through puberty ceremony since the 1920's, she knew more than her aunts' generation. Puberty ceremony was not allowed during their time. The Hoopa tribe's Kayla Brown was right there assisting and lifting spirits. The two of them, Kayla and Babers (Marine) forged the strong ties between their two families and two tribes for the next generation. The young men on both sides of the rivers fulfilled their roles as protectors and keepers of the Sacred Fire. A new team of cooks not only assisted the treasured chef of the Winnemem, RT, but they brought experience, and a strong commitment to keep coming back. The women followed the young women's example to strengthen their bonds of relationship. As the Chief said, a tribe is only as strong as their women's bond with one another.

This bond was made even stronger because all the women who could at that time bought their basket hats, and went together with the young initiates to Colchima Salwal, a sacred spring, to do ceremony, washing their hats in the waterfall which tumbled down past sugar pines and yew and thanking the waters there for the hats and making a commitment to the water, to the salmon, to the sacred places. These hats, Caleen says, will help us think better, think right. These hats, like the acorn, will bind us to these sacred lands and to the ancestors' responsibilities to nur, to mem, to all that is sacred.

There were so many allies at the Coming of Age Ceremony. Environmental Justice for Water, Winnemem Support and AIM West -- from Portland to L.A. The circle grew larger and stronger.

And when the protectors, the assistants, the fire tender and the two young women -- Jessica and Winona -- swam across the river, there was a large and emotional crowd who met them. Each young adult who was part of ceremony and swam across to join the supporters were smoked up as each one came out of the river, new, and ready to join the adult circle. I looked at them. All of them Winnemem, and most of all, all of them from the Village. I remembered when I started coming to ceremony. The fire tenders traveled to be there. And there is just a difference now that the center, the core of the tribe live together. They are stronger. It is as Granny always dreamed of. And she is there so strong in spirit with her family. This is not to trivialize the travelers because those who travel all have large commitments and even though they live far from the village, they do Winnemem work and pray and keep that Fire alive wherever they live. The heart of the tribe, the Village, is very strong, though, the main fire which has been burning for over a year, the main village where we all call Home, the leadership.

I will come back to blog sometime soon. I will blog about both ceremonies. I just want to thank you for all your support with postcards to Barb Boxer. She did respond. It just did not do any good with Krisi Cottini. And for those of you who still want to support Winnemem, so much work is happening and your support is appreciated. The tribe is doing whatever is necessary to bring the salmon home. Steps are being made. New Zealand is ready and willing. Mark and Caleen are speaking with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ) and NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) (on the salmon) as well as the DFG (Dept. of Fish and Game in CA. The lawsuit is still happening.

The United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples is being discussed for ratification. Please send your letters and ask your organizations and tribes to write or email supporting the US adoption IN FULL the UNDRIP WITHOUT ANY RESTRICTIONS OR LIMITATION OF THE ARTICLES to S/SR Global Intergovernmental Affairs, US Department of State, 2201 C Street N.W., Suite 1317, Washington D.C. 20520. Or email,

When our Chief went to the meeting regarding the UNDRIP joining representatives of federally recognized tribes (although not invited since she was chief of an unrecognized tribe -- like 300,000 tribal people of 90 percent of the tribes are in California -- this time she was allowed to speak anyway. She also was allowed to speak the second day to the Non Governmental Organizations assembled (NGO's). She even was able to talk with Obama's person, Cherokee. All of this is first time. She has asked for them to come to California and call all the tribes who were de-recognized in the 1980's together and listen.

The people assembled at the UNDRIP were complaining about the acronym and some talked about the name being changed. The Chief spoke up that UNDRIP might be the perfect name and talked about water as a central issue for indigenous nations as well as the strength of water, one drip at a time cutting through mountains, forming the land, providing a home to the nur, giving life to all beings -- one drip at a time.

The Winnemem are out of the belly people, unfazed and undigested by what the "Monster" offers -- profit and paper and the power to destroy all of life -- and watching from the outside the vulnerable belly, still following the sacred -- the waters, the salmon, the great mountains and ancestral spirits -- as all their ancestors before them did. The drip of water joining others is the image I carry with me during these difficult almost daunting times. United (UN) we can carry on and with such leadership as shown by Winnemem and side by side with the leaders among the young adults coming up after them, and with the support of the leaders of past generations who still surround them. Into the future, we shall always carry on.

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.